A 1,500-year-old public building dating to the Byzantine Period has been found in excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in the northern Israeli city of Akko. The building was found in an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted approximately 100 meters west of Tel Akko, and it is believed that it may have been used as a church.
The large ashlar-built public building was found to have an abundance of roof tiles, parts of marble ornamentations, pottery, and coins, all of which point to a public structure that served the Bishop of Akko’s city in the Byzantine period. Terra cotta pipes survived below the wall levels and mosaic pavements adorned the floor in one of its rooms. The building’s inhabitants also had a readily available supply of water from a well that was situated in one of the courtyards of the building.
350 rare pieces of marble
According to Nurit Feig, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, “Until now, the city was known from Christian sources which mention its bishop who took part in formulating the new religion. Now, the first tangible evidence is emerging in the field.” She added that “this is an important discovery for the study of Akko because until now no remains dating to the Byzantine period have been found, save those of a residential quarter situated near the sea.”
Early Christian sources mention the bishops of Akko and Caesarea who participated in major international conferences and meetings that dealt with formulating religious doctrine. This, along with evidence of an anonymous pilgrim from the city of Piacenza in Italy regarding the richness and splendor of the city in the year 570 CE in which he mentions the beautiful churches within its precincts, attest to the centrality of Akko for the Christian religion in this period.
In the past, IAA has also uncovered a treasure trove of some 350 rare pieces of marble, hoarded beneath an ancient cellar floor during an excavation conducted approximately 100 meters north of the Old City wall of Akko. The unique find, which dates back to the Crusader period (the thirteenth century CE), is a collection of items that were gathered from buildings that had been destroyed.
1,500-year-old public building
The unique find, which dates 800 years back to the Crusader period (the thirteenth century CE), includes a collection of 350 marble items that were gathered from buildings that had been destroyed. The hoard was found during an archaeological excavation conducted by the Antiquities Authority prior to construction by the Akko municipality of a new building to house classrooms in the Hilmi Shafi Educational Campus.
According to Stern, the find is exceedingly rare, “the likes of which have never been discovered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem (the capital of which was Akko) in the Crusader period,” she stated.
“During the archaeological excavations we came upon a cellar that was sealed by collapse, comprised of building stones and charred beams. Beneath the cellar floor a hoard of approximately 350 marble items and colored stones was discovered, including two broken marble tombstones with Latin inscriptions (one belonging to a person by the name of Maratinus), flat marble slabs and marble tiles of various sizes and colors, etc. Some extraordinary items were also found, among them a large stone cross and a large fragment of porphyry (a rare precious purple stone, which has been the color of royalty from Roman times). The quality of the marble is excellent and it was undoubtedly imported from abroad.”
Rare precious purple stone, which has been the color of royalty from Roman times
During the Crusader era, Akko was an important international trade center, she noted, adding the marble hoard reflects the magnificent buildings that existed in the area but had not survived, and the commerce and wealth of its residents.
“Just as there is a trend today to incorporate wooden doors from India or roof tiles from old buildings in Italy in modern villas, at that time they used to integrate ancient architectural items from the Roman and Byzantine periods in their construction,” Stern explained. “And just like today, people at that time also yearned for the classic and the exotic. We know from written sources that they bought and sold such stones, which were exceptionally valuable, to be reused in buildings. We can assume that the owner of the hoard, whether he was a merchant or he collected the stones for his own construction, was aware of impending danger and therefore buried the valuable stones until such time as the tension abated.”
However, the cache of stones was not sold in the end. According to Stern, “We can reasonably assume that the collapse that was found above the hoard is evidence of the building’s destruction in 1291 CE, when Crusader Akko was conquered by the Mamluks and was completely devastated”. The marble hoard was removed from the field and transferred to the Israel Antiquities Authority for further study.